‘We Sell Dreams’: Work Commissioned by the Shah of Iran from Czech Artists in the 1970s
In the 1970s, Iran developed extensive cooperative ties with countries in both the Western and the Eastern blocs following the rise in global oil prices and the introduction of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi’s dynamic reforms of Iranian society. Alongside numerous industrial contracts formed between Iran and Czechoslovakia, Czech artists were also commissioned to decorate the grand monuments in Teheran that aimed to glorify the ruling Iranian dynasty and its social reforms. Czech artists were approached following the success of the Czechoslovak Pavilions and audio-visual presentations at the Expo in Montreal (1967). Art Centrum, an art agency, and Jaroslav Frič, the main initiator, organiser and creative force behind the Iranian projects, were able to employ a number of artists in this work who were out of favour with the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia and had difficulty finding work at home. Czech artists involved in work on the Shahyad Monument, the Marble Palace, and Negarestan Gallery in Teheran included Hugo Demartini, Stanislav Kolíbal, Pavel Nešleha, Bedřich Dlouhý, Bohumil Eliáš, Oldřich Kulhánek, Jan Hendrych and many others. This gesamtkunstwerk, combining sculptural, painting, glass and textile work with historical artefacts, film projects, and original, quality musical compositions by Zdeněk Liška, developed technical and artistic techniques like polyecran and laterna magika (Brussels, 1958) to a level of technical perfection, monumentality, and sensory opulence, but the content always remained in the service of the propagandist nature of the commission. The Islamic Revolution brought an abrupt end to these projects that had provided individual artists with financial security, with the opportunity to pursue their own artistic creations, unusually without material limitations, or gave them the chance to travel and become acquainted with a very different culture, history, and landscape.